Taylor Swift’s Excuse That She “Wasn’t Educated Enough” on the 2016 Election Doesn’t Entirely Cut It
Over the weekend, a profile with country/pop music superstar Taylor Swift came out from The Guardian, written by Laura Snapes. It’s a well-written piece with a lot of empathy for the pop star, who has been a polarizing presence since 2009. What stuck out to me was that it touched on Swift’s silence during the 2016 election, when it felt as if every major celebrity but her had made an endorsement.
For Swift, a lot of the reason for her political silence was a mixture of a lack of education on the topics and, as she put it, the Dixie Chicks rule. “I come from country music,” she explained. “The number one thing they absolutely drill into you as a country artist, and you can ask any other country artist this, is ‘Don’t be like the Dixie Chicks!’”
For those who may have forgotten, The Dixie Chicks were an American country/folk group who, during the Invasion of Iraq, said, “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas,” during a tour stop in London. That led to them being blacklisted and boycotted. Frankly, considering the pro-war climate we were in, that was a tragic occurrence, since history is pretty much on their side in that regard.
However, at the core of that “rule” is to stay in your place, which doesn’t exactly seem like something Taylor Swift, who is known for confronting her “haters” and being a successful crossover artist, would do. But the brand.
“Meanwhile, Donald Trump was more than nine months into his presidency, and still Swift had not taken a position. But the idea that a pop star could ever have impeded his path to the White House seemed increasingly naive. In hindsight, the demand that Swift speak up looks less about politics and more about her identity (white, rich, powerful) and a moralistic need for her to redeem herself – as if nobody else had ever acted on a vindictive instinct, or blundered publicly.”
“I hate to admit this,” Swift said, “but I felt that I wasn’t educated enough on it. Because I hadn’t actively tried to learn about politics in a way that I felt was necessary for me, making statements that go out to hundreds of millions of people.”
That, frankly, is the kind of ignorance you can have as a rich, white, cis-het woman living in the United States. Speaking of her whiteness, she also told Snapes that after the narrative of her “white victimhood” came out following her conflict with Nicki Minaj, she came to understand how “my privilege allowed me to not have to learn about white privilege. I didn’t know about it as a kid, and that is privilege itself, you know? And that’s something that I’m still trying to educate myself on every day. How can I see where people are coming from, and understand the pain that comes with the history of our world?”
“The things that happen to you in your life are what develop your political opinions. I was living in this Obama eight-year paradise of, you go, you cast your vote, the person you vote for wins, everyone’s happy!” she says. “This whole thing, the last three, four years, it completely blindsided a lot of us, me included.”
Am I, like many, nostalgic for the Obama era? Yes. However, that isn’t because the Obamas were perfect, and that doesn’t mean that America was in some kind of utopia while he was president. The deaths of multiple African-American people during his presidency spurred the Black Lives Matter movement. Children were detained during the Obama presidency, and he gained the moniker of “Deporter in Chief.” Gun violence still plagued this country, and the anti-choice right was still working out ways to try to keep women and people with uteruses from obtaining legal abortions.
A lot of us were shocked that Donald Trump won in 2016, but plenty of people called it, and the politics that he sailed into the White House on are not new. Obama’s presidency was filled with eight years of birtherism and racists who, even to this day, think that he wasn’t born here.
Taylor Swift will always be a complicated figure to me. I grew up listening to her music, and many of the AMV’s I made in my teens were set to TSwift sad-girl songs. I never felt she was a secret Republican or anti-choice, but her lack of voice when it comes to those topics hasn’t done her any favors. When you will come for fans for copyright infringement but not disown fans who call you an Aryan queen or make you a face of the alt-right’s ideal woman, then it makes you look suspect.
In 2016, many celebrities and artists put their fan clout on the line: Katy Petty, Beyoncé, Kendall Jenner, Lena Dunham, Lady Gaga, Robert DeNiro, Beth Behrs, Cher, Connie Britton, etc. Most of them have crossover appeal and conservative fans. Swift can say that she came from Country Music and she’s been told not to be like the Dixie Chicks, but that hasn’t stopped Willie Nelson or Kacey Musgraves. Willie Nelson has been a hardcore Democrat for years, and Kacey Musgraves was telling people to follow their arrow and kiss boys or girls or whoever they wanted from her first album.
I may not know Dolly Parton’s politics line by line, but you have a pretty good understanding, based on her music, her activism, and the company she keeps, of where she stands. The fact that people, even her own friend, pointed out that it is not clear with Taylor Swift proves how adept she has been at having her brand erase anything political about her.
Taylor Swift has trafficked in white victimhood, and it has served her well because, often, she was objectively the one who was wronged. I have no doubt that she has put in the effort to grow, and through her new work is trying to address the issues she once avoided. That doesn’t mean that people of color, especially Black people and queer people, can’t be cynical about her. Saying she didn’t know enough to support one candidate or the other makes sense during a primary, but when it got between Trump and Clinton, I think the choice was quite easy if she stands for the things she says.
It’s not totally Swift’s fault that shes the perfect image of cishet white female victimhood, but it is her fault that she played into it for so long. I respect her hustle, and I respect the strides she has made for women in music, and I deeply admire the strength she showed during her sexual assault case. There is no denying that she has worked hard to become one of the highest-selling constant moneymakers in music, but the fact that I truly have no idea where she stands on things like Black Lives Matter, and that I can never really trust that she does things for personal growth rather than sales, makes her more inaccessible that even, say, Beyoncé, who is even more closed off in many ways.
The entire profile is worth reading, and I’m glad she’s is speaking out now, at least.
(via The Guardian, image: Rich Fury/Getty Images)
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